A new cross-industry coalition – the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) – has agreed on a common file format for the distribution of digital content, promising that it will make the concept of ‘Buy Once, Play Anywhere’ a reality. The idea is that the new format can be licensed by any company to package a piece of content, which will then be playable on any DECE-compliant service or device across any network.
DECE boasts some big names*, bringing together most of the big Hollywood studios (Disney being the exception) with major global consumer hardware and software brands such as Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Toshiba, Microsoft and Adobe. However, the distribution networks and pay-TV operators are less well represented: Comcast (poised to own a studio once it acquires NBC Universal) and Cox Communications account for less than half of US cable subs, satellite and IPTV are absent, while Liberty Global is the only European cable owner.
The technical set-up DECE is proposing includes a cloud-based authentication and account management hub called the Digital Rights Locker, to be run by Neustar, which will administer consumers’ rights to their content and store it as required; and a choice of five different proprietary DRM solutions for content security (Adobe Flash Access, CMLA-OMA V2, The Marlin DRM Open Standard, Microsoft PlayReady and Widevine).
Technical barriers placed in the way of consumers wanting to port premium content they have paid for to the device of their choice have been proven to encourage piracy. If successful, DECE could speed up implementation of the ‘Buy Once, Play Anywhere’ concept in connected homes and counter this.
Distribution networks should be aware, however, that the positioning of DECE as a studio-led industry grouping in which they are weakly represented could position it as a bid to disintermediate them, supplying content direct to consumers over the Internet instead of their managed networks (the Digital Rights Locker being viewed as the system’s virtual headend).
They must therefore make it much easier for their customers to consume what they have paid for in whatever way it suits them, and do so fast. This will help reduce churn to any emerging Internet-based alternatives. And they should also encourage more of their counterparts to join DECE so that together they can act as a counterweight to studio interests.
* Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent, Ascent Media Group, Best Buy, Blueprint Digital, CableLabs, Catch Media, Cisco, Comcast, Cox Communications, Deluxe Digital, DivX, Dolby Laboratories, DTS, ExtendMedia, Fox Entertainment Group, HP, Intel, Irdeto, Liberty Global, Lionsgate, Microsoft, MOD Systems, Motorola, Movie Labs, Nagravision, NBC Universal, Netflix, Neustar, Nokia, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Philips, RIAA, Rovi, Roxio CinemaNow, Samsung Electronics, Secure Path, Sony, SwitchNAP, Tesco, Thomson, Toshiba, Verimatrix, VeriSign, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Widevine Technologies Inc. and Zoran